Designing for Growth: Spark Innovation through Analogy

Analogies/Thief and Doctor Tool from The Designing for Growth Field Book, page 65

Analogies/Thief and Doctor Tool from The Designing for Growth Field Book, page 65

A few years ago, I took tango classes. I thought I was going to come away a better dancer, but to my surprise, I also came away with some striking lessons on leadership. My tango teacher told us:

“When you’re leading, and you want your partner to go a certain way, the last thing you want to do is push them. They will fall and you will both look stupid. Instead, open up, step back, and create a space in front of them. They will feel welcomed into the space and compelled to move in the direction you intended.”

Now replace “partner” with “employee”, “customer”, or anyone you want to inspire to action. How true, I thought.

I felt fortunate to stumble upon that analogy, but those insights can be few and far between. That’s why design thinking is all about making the magic happen, not waiting around for it. The Designing for Growth Field Book (D4GFB) exists exactly for this purpose.

Recently, we used the Analogies/Thief and Doctor template with one of our clients (named so, because you’re a “thief", swiping ideas from other contexts, and then “doctoring” them to fit your context). Our client is a health care provider, but we found analogies to their challenge in places as diverse as airline call centers and trapeze schools. Not only were the ideas inspired, but the energy in the room was palpable. The “Ooh, ooh! I’ve got one!” exclamations grew exponentially as one idea sparked another which sparked five more. 

The strange thing about any challenge is that it can seem so uniquely difficult; we are tempted to feel, particularly in innovation, that we are walking on untrodden ground. The truth is, though, you would be hard pressed to find a challenge that didn’t exist in some fashion elsewhere in the world. The D4GFB gives a great example:

“When Christi Zuber at Kaiser Permanente wanted to find an innovative solution for nurse medication rounds, she and her team looked for analogies. One attribute they noted was that nurses needed 100% concentration on their task during medication rounds but are required to multitask at other times.

The role of airplane pilots struck them as an analogy. Take off and landing are crucial moments, but the pilot’s role during the rest of the flight is often less demanding. When they visited an airline crew, Christi and her team learned about “the sterile cockpit,” which is a time period when no one is allowed to speak except the pilot and co-pilot, and they can speak only about takeoff or landing.” 

So what did they do? They devised a system in which nurses would wear “sterile” sashes when they were doing their medication rounds which indicated they should not be bothered unless the conversation was about the medication task at hand. The analogy worked because the real question was about something larger than nursing; it was about enabling focus in high-stakes situations.

Has an analogy ever helped you think creatively about a challenge? Download the Analogies/Thief and Doctor template now. 

Message me: @BreeAGroff.